Malaysia, the early years. Part I: Plucky federation defies the odds (VIDEO)

Ida Lim
Children waving the new Malaysian flag as they celebrate Malaysia's birth. September 17, 1963. — Screengrab from Reuters archive footage

KUALA LUMPUR, Sept 12 — The formation of Malaysia in 1963 was set against a backdrop of conflict in Southeast Asia, communist insurgencies, accusations of imperialism, race tensions, and Indonesia's undeclared war on the fledgling federation.

As the country prepares to celebrate Malaysia Day for the first time under a new federal government, Malay Mail takes a look back at the country's formation and painful early years marked by bloodshed and geo-political intrigue of the 1960s.

Timeline of key events:

May 27, 1961 — Then prime minister Tunku Abdul Rahman Al-Haj moots the idea of a new federation comprising Malaya, Singapore, North Borneo (now Sabah), Sarawak and Brunei to curb the spread of the communist menace.

August 24, 1961 — Singapore’s Lee Kuan Yew and Malaya’s Tunku Abdul Rahman jointly announce that both territories have agreed in principle to merge, with a white paper to be published in November.

June 21, 1962 — The five-man Cobbold Commission submits its report to the British and Malayan governments, in which it found 80 per cent of North Borneo and Sarawak in favour of the formation.

August 1, 1962 —  Then British PM Harold Macmillan and Malaya counterpart Tunku Abdul Rahman sign an agreement to form Malaysia on August 31, 1963. The British also agree to transfer sovereignty of Singapore, North Borneo and Sarawak to Malaysia then, subject to constitutional safeguards.

September 1, 1962 — In a national referendum, over 70 per cent of Singapore vote for a merger with Malaya based on the November 1961 White Paper's terms.

July 9, 1963 — The Malaysia Agreement is signed in London by the UK, Malaya, North Borneo, Sarawak and Singapore. However, Brunei ultimately decides to not to join.

Celebrations amid signs of brewing trouble

August 31, 1963 — The planned declaration of Malaysia to coincide with Malaya’s Independence Day is delayed for the United Nations to study Indonesia and the Philippines’ dispute of the formation.

September 15, 1963 — Indonesia and the Philippines recall their respective ambassador and envoy from Kuala Lumpur and refuse to recognise Malaysia, notwithstanding UN secretary-general U Thant’s conclusion that most in North Borneo and Sarawak want to join Malaysia.

September 16, 1963 — Malaysia is finally formed on this day. The proclamation of Malaysia was actually read out by Tunku Abdul Rahman on September 17. It was a period of great joy for the new nation that celebrated in every way possible, including parades, processions, fun fairs, fireworks, variety shows and singing.  However, the threat of Communist activities remained.

— The Malaysian embassy in Jakarta, Indonesia cancels its buffet dinner party due to security risks as anti-Malaysia protesters stone the embassy and the British Embassy there. The Malaysian and British consulates in Medan, Indonesia are also attacked, forcing the Malaysian consul to take refuge in the US consulate.

September 17, 1963 — After an emergency Cabinet meeting, Malaysia decides to cut off diplomatic ties with Indonesia and the Philippines, giving embassies there one week to clear out.

— Over 1,000 demonstrators pelt the Indonesian embassy in Kuala Lumpur with stones. Tunku Abdul Rahman commends their patriotism, but urges the public to obey the law.

* Watch out for Part 2 and Part 3 of Malay Mail's recap of Malaysia's challenging journey in the initial years, to be published tomorrow and Friday. The videos feature Reuters archive footage.

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